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|July 18, 2000||
Wanted: A pacemakerRajitha
150 minutes in 150 words
Rebel without a pause, Prabhu Deva, and wholesome girl-next-door, Jaya Sheel, meet in a medical college and fall in love. Jaya's sister's (Aiswarya, daughter of Lakshmi) abusive husband traps her into marriage with Vasu Vikram (son of yesteryear baddie M R R Vasu, in a cameo role). Jaya expects Prabhu to ride to the rescue, but Fate intervenes. In a desperate bid to stop the wedding, Aiswarya commits suicide. Jaya blames Prabhu for her sister's death and, through the perverse workings of fate, later finds herself taking shelter in Prabhu's foster home, the fate of her orphan neice in the hands of the best heart surgeon of them all -- no prizes for guessing who. How the tangle resolves is what the rest of the film is all about.
Prabhu Deva's acting. This bloke increasingly shows signs of following in the footsteps of great Tamil comedians of yesteryears, Chandrababu and Nagesh. Nifty dancers all three. Very expressive faces. High degree of acting skills. And the ability to lace comedy with just that unexpected, and therefore all the more touching, hint of pathos. Where the script provides him with some scope -- for instance, in the scene where Jaya Sheel pesters him to tell her how much he loves her, he struggles for words and finally, at a loss, kisses her; when she reacts with disgust, he loses his temper and flares up -- Prabhu acts up a storm.
Then there is Sharat Kumar, playing the hero's bad-boy brother. As the tough ganglord who is hell bent on ensuring his kid brother does not follow in his footsteps, Sharat is competent.
Vivek has been increasingly taking over from the likes of Senthil, Goundamani, Vadivelu et al as the comedian of choice in Tamil movies, and this film underlines his growing clout by giving him a lot of room. Personally, I prefer witty wordplay to situational slapstick, but there is no denying that Vivek's slapstick-based comedy track has them rolling in the aisles, and is a big draw card.
Vairamuthu's lyrics are, as always, evocative; S A Rajkumar tones down his musical score to good effect in this film; the cinematography is crisp and clear; the special FX scene where, in the song sequence Udhattukkum kannathukkum varnam edharkku, an animated rose dances alongside Prabhu Deva, is neatly done.
Script and pacing lose marks in this one. It's a funny thing, actually. Though the movie is having a decent run at the box office, you find theatregoers cribbing a touch about what they see as the anomaly of casting Prabhu Deva as a heart surgeon. That would seem to imply that only the clean-cut Arvind Swamy types can be cast as engineers, doctors et al -- which in turn makes that section of the audience guilty of typecasting, something we accuse moviemakers of.
The real trouble, though, is not with the casting, but with the script: The story builds Prabhu Deva up as a fiery, hot-tempered lad who goes to college only because his brother will slap him silly otherwise. The death of his brother acts as a sobering influence and Prabhu then sets out to fulfill his brother's one ambition, which is to see his sibling as a famous surgeon.
So far, so good. But while the script provides scope for Prabhu Deva as lover, as two-fisted fighter (someone should think of using this guy as an Indian version of Jackie Chan -- the agility is there, as is the humour) and as dancer, there is almost no scene that highlights the transformed Prabhu Deva, no portion of the story that showcases him as sober, committed doctor. So, we don't accept Prabhu Deva the surgeon because, barring a few fleeting scenes, we don't see him as one. There are just not enough establishing scenes to get us under the skin of this facet of Prabhu Deva's character.
To me, this is doubly strange, coming from Ezhil, the director and the pen behind story/screenplay. I kept thinking back to his debut, the Vijay-Simran starrer Thullaatha Manamum Thullum. In that film, Vijay's mother is never, ever, seen -- there is not even a photograph of her in evidence at any point. And yet, she is a very strong character in the film and the catalyst for one of the movie's most powerful scenes -- the one where Vijay, learning of her death, keeps his emotions under control in front of Simran, excuses himself to go to the bathroom (a stinky, dirty little hole) and, there, breaks down completely.
That was characterisation at its best and strongest. And that, when I come to think of it, is what I am missing here -- Ezhil's ability to etch memorable characters is not really in evidence in this film, and as a result, the impact is diluted.
Then there is Jaya Sheel, the Calcutta lass who settled down in Bombay and caught the eye of the producer and director through the Sunrise coffee ad (shades of Arvind Swamy, who also got noticed through a coffee ad before being picked for Mani Rathnam's Mammootty-Rajinikanth starrer, Dalapathi). Granting the Tamil industry's penchant to cast Bombay belles in their productions, this particular exercise proves futile -- Jaya Sheel is neither arrestingly beautiful nor noticeably skilled in acting. And this does cast a dampener on the overall impact of the film; more so because Prabhu Deva is the kind of actor whose performance goes up several notches when he has a good foil in the girl paired opposite him (vide his acting in Ezhaiyin Sirippil, where he is paired opposite the seasoned Kausalya and Roja).
Above all, there is pacing. The film starts off in the present, with Jaya Sheel and orphan neice landing up at Prabhu Deva's foster-home, all unknowing. Then they meet, the flashback is triggered off and continues for most of the movie. When the film cuts back to the present, there is not enough time to build on the drama, so the director perforce has to fast forward things and bring matters to a climax. The result is rather jerky storytelling.
The movie has its moments, so I wouldn't say this is a must-avoid. But tell you what -- if you can con a friend into buying your ticket for you, all the better.
Title: Pennin Manadhai Thottu
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